There was a reason why the leaders of all the South Asian countries and one leader from further afield accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to his inauguration. As within the country, there is a sense in the wider world that a significant political transformation has taken place in India. The neighbours are eager to grasp what it means for them and their own interests. It was not easy for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to make the journey from Islamabad, but if he was courageous enough to do so — though not before clearance came from the Pakistan Army and hawkish sections of his own party — it was because he hoped that the new dispensation in Delhi would match that gesture in some way. In the event, the visit has ended up not making Mr. Sharif’s position in Pakistan any easier. He refrained from bringing up the Kashmir issue in public while in Delhi, and for the first time, a Pakistani delegation did not hold a meeting with the Hurriyat. In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, Mr. Sharif called for attitudes to change from “confrontation to cooperation”. The Indian side highlighted that Mr. Modi gave no quarter on the issue of terrorism emanating from Pakistan, and on speedy action in the 2008 Mumbai attacks case. Mr. Sharif had to go into damage-control mode when he returned to Pakistan. It cannot be emphasised more that India’s interests on the terrorism issue, as well as its expressed keenness to move towards “full trade normalistation” with Pakistan, are better served by strengthening Mr. Sharif’s hands.
In fact, the imagination Prime Minister Modi showed with his invitation could have been taken forward with an India-Pakistan-Afghanistan trilateral meeting right there in his new office, but perhaps it was thought to be too early. As it turned out, Afghan President Hamid Karzai, with whom Mr. Modi held a separate meeting, blamed the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba for last week’s attack on the Indian consulate in Herat. On Sri Lanka, the new Prime Minister has rightly signalled that there is no change in India’s position that “full implementation of the Thirteenth Amendment and going beyond” would assist the process of ethnic reconciliation, and contribute towards meeting the aspirations of the Tamil community for a just peace. Political parties in Tamil Nadu, including the AIADMK and Chief Minister Jayalalithaa, were vociferous in their protest against the invitation to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, but their support to the Centre would lend more weight and credence to its position. Not doing so, on the other hand, would enable Colombo to play one against the other, to the detriment of Tamil interests.